Category Archives: Harry Potter

My teacher, Mrs Christie

When Sophie Hannah was talking at Bloody Scotland about growing up with Agatha Christie, it was like hearing myself speak. Or it would have been if I could sound as intelligent and articulate as Sophie. And I wished I’d known this ‘sister’ back when I was twelve, except at the time her mother Adèle Geras was barely out of university herself, so Sophie and I were never destined to be the same age at the same time.

Also, we wouldn’t have had a language in common. It was more our behaviour and reading patterns that seem to have coincided. I’m pretty sure I didn’t go to school with children who read Agatha Christie at twelve. If I had I might not have felt like a freak.

And if there was a likeminded child at school, I’m reasonably certain they didn’t read Agatha in English. (This peculiar habit of reading in a foreign language really only took off with Harry Potter.) Mrs Christie was my English mentor/teacher. If not for her, I wouldn’t have tried. And I suppose I wouldn’t have attempted it if first I’d had to go to the library to check out their foreign langauges section. It helped that Mother-of-witch had a few Christies in the original; leftovers of her own attempts at educational improvement. So I could test drive them to see if it would work, and it did. Reasonably.

Agatha Christie, The Man in the Brown Suit

I was going to ask the rhetorical question of whether I’d be blogging right now, were it not for Agatha Christie. But my question has to go deeper than that. Not to be blogging wouldn’t be the end of the world (I mean, if I’d not started, I’d not know what I was missing). But would I have come to Britain to live? There would in all likelihood not have been a Resident IT Consultant. Or Offspring.

Perhaps Agatha wasn’t so much my English teacher, as my life designer. Not that she knew, but still.

It’s extraordinary what an early exposure to niblicks will do to a little girl.

A few words from the ambassador

The last week in November will yet again be Book Week Scotland. I was going to say a few things about it, but have found out that the week has its own ambassadors, and here is one of them to tell you about the grand launch last Wednesday, and about her love for libraries. Over to Helen Grant:

Helen Grant

“When I heard that the launch event for Book Week Scotland 2014 was going to be at a boxing gym in Edinburgh, I naively assumed that the boxing gym had a conference room and the launch would be in that (I’m not sure why I had this mad thought; I don’t suppose boxers pause from boxing each other to have management meetings). But no! It was far more interesting than that! I arrived at the gym to find that the boxing ring was full of Scottish book characters, all vying for the ‘favourite’ spot! In fact, Peter Pan was slugging it out with Sherlock Holmes at that very moment. Many well-loved characters were there, ranging from Badger to Harry Potter and Hit Girl.

FREE TO USE - BOOK WEEK SCOTLAND 2014 LAUNCH

After a particularly dynamic photo call, we sat down and listened to Sophie Moxon of the Scottish Book Trust talk about Book Week Scotland’s 2014 programme, followed by Cabinet Secretary for Culture and External Affairs Fiona Hyslop, who demonstrated support at the highest level! Amongst this year’s highlights are plans to give books to every P1 child in Scotland and to distribute 150,000 free copies of Scotland’s Stories of Home, a collection of short stories and poems written by Scottish people. Plus there is the chance to settle the question of who is the most popular Scottish book character by voting at http://www.scottishbooktrust.com/reading/book-week-scotland/vote-for-your-favourite-character-from-a-scottish-book. I’m still trying to make my mind up. I’m a bit of a traditionalist, but I can’t decide between Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde!

FREE TO USE - BOOK WEEK SCOTLAND 2014 LAUNCH

Then it was the turn of the Author Ambassadors to take the stage. The theme of this year’s Book Week Scotland is love, so we had each written a love letter to our favourite library. Paul Cuddihy kicked off with an appreciative epistle to Bishopbriggs library, with which he evidently had a very long term relationship in spite of the rival lures of the local pub!

I felt rather abashed when I got up after him, and had to confess that due to having moved around a lot, I am a bit of a library philanderer, with a hoard of expired library cards that I keep as carefully as old love letters. However I did promise to change my fickle ways, and settle down with the one, for which role I nominated Strathearn Community Library in Crieff.

My relationship with the library shows that a community library is more than just a collection of books. If you have lived all over the place as I have, it is difficult to feel at home anywhere, but the day I found my husband’s birth announcement in an ancient and yellowing copy of the Crieff Herald in the library’s local history section, was the day that I felt we had come home.

Shari Low’s love letter to Renfrew library was touching and hilarious, especially when she described some of the scurrilous books by Jackie Collins and the like that she had relished in former years.

I’m thrilled to be one of the 2014 Author Ambassadors. Our role is to spread the word about Book Week Scotland and trumpet out the love for libraries and reading. Books have been such a big part of my life. I can remember which ones I was reading during some of the most exciting adventures I have ever had, and the ones that cheered me up and kept me going during the worst times.

Here is one of the most important things I had to say to Strathearn Community Library in my love letter:

‘The thing I love most about you is not the modern stuff. It’s the local history section, over in the back corner. Because I’m new to this part of the world, I don’t have a past here. I’m finding out about my new home, just as I would ask a new friend all about their life before we met. You have so much to tell me! Folk stories, curious little snippets of history, amazing ancedotes of past lives.

One of my favourites is the tale of John Steedman, the timorous minister of Auchterarder during the Jacobite rising of 1715, who was too afraid to preach while the Rebel Army were in the neighbourhood. William Reid, the minister of Dunning, who was made of sterner stuff, swapped with him, and for several weeks gave the sermon at Auchterarder armed with a loaded pistol!

I love that story. It makes eighteenth century Perthshire sound like the Wild West! I found that tale in a very old book. Thank you for keeping books like that safe, so that history stays alive, and we can read about more than just the big national events.’

Libraries are a treasure trove, and I’d love to encourage people to use them and get the most out of them.”

There will be many events, and I’ll let you know as and when I have any news or firsthand tales to tell. Or I suppose I’ll have to keep feeding ‘my’ ambassador plenty of chocolate. (Although I’m sure that Mr Grant isn’t old enough to have had his birth announced in an ‘ancient’ copy of the Crieff Herald, in the library’s local history department… I mean, where would that leave me?)

Celebrating Jacqueline Wilson’s 100th book

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Right, I’m vertical again. Have had four hours of sleep, so this will be absolutely fine. It seems I wasn’t even the most far flung guest at last night’s Opal Plumstead bash at the Ritz. Dundee beats me very slightly. The really good thing about long train trips is the reading a witch can get done. By Darlington I had been scared witless by Rachel Ward, and I continued with Danny Weston, who continued to scare me with more water based ghostly shenanigans.

Must have sat next to either an author or an editor, because I could tell that a novel was being edited on my right, all the way to King’s Cross. Which has altered beyond all recognition since I was last there. (To begin with, I had to adjust my expectations from thinking I was at Euston.) I saw the Harry Potter trolley and the long queue of people wanting to catch the train to Hogwarts.

Royal Institution

After a very brief look at clothes for librarians, I detoured to Green Park for a sit on a bench, before walking to the Royal Institution for a look around the Faraday Museum. I’ve never managed to be in the right part of London at the right time. I disgraced myself with the Elements Song down in the basement, before a nice pot of tea. Actually, it was only Twinings, so whereas my rest was nice, the tea was Twinings…

Ritz chandelier

And at last it was time for the Ritz! I spoke to probably four doormen and similar, before getting my flower arrangements right and finding the Music Room. (Where else would you be told to turn left by the flower arrangement?)

Jacqueline Wilson was celebrating her 100th (book, not birthday!) in the company of 100 guests (no, I didn’t count), so what was I doing there, you ask. I have no idea. Clutching a glass of water, and eating rather a lot of rather tasty canapés. (Made a bit of a mess with the egg one.) Trying to rub shoulders with interesting people. The lovely Naomi made sure I spoke to Jacky early on, and I realised I ought to have brought a present, when my co-guest handed over a cute dog portrait.

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That wasn’t the only gift. There was a striking handmade Opal Plumstead stocking, of the Christmas variety. And like at all children’s parties, there was a party bag (purple) for the guests at the end of the evening, containing a signed book and some Opal Plumstead sweets.

Opal Plumstead bag

There were speeches. Annie Eaton had a paper to read from, to get it right. And she read out a letter fron Nick Sharratt, who couldn’t be there. He loves working with Jacky, but no, they are still not married, and no, he can’t ask her to put every child he meets into one of her books.

Jacqueline Wilson

Jacky also had a paper, because – as she said – there had been champagne. Lovely speech, which was followed by two young men singing a song (from Hetty Feather the play, I believe) which listed every single JW book title, or so it seemed. The cast from Hetty Feather were all there, and I even met ‘Jem,’ aka actor Matt Costain. He wore a name badge which claimed he was in actual fact Jacqueline Wilson, but I didn’t believe that for a moment.

I’d worried in case book no. 100 would be deemed a nice even number to stop at. But book 101 is already in the bag, and book 102 is in the process of being written. Fans everywhere can breathe a sigh of relief. (Although my shelves have pointed out they don’t see how they will cope.)

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It was one of those events where an increasingly forgetful witch sees familiar faces and has to think hard who they belong to. So, there was one JW book character; driver Bob. Jacky’s daughter was there, as was Simon Mayo. Lots of publishing people, Jacky’s first agent, Julia Eccleshare, Anne Marley, Caro Fickling, Philippa Dickinson…

'Hetty Feather'

And many thanks to ‘Dear Trish’ who pointed out I’m not a Tom, Dick or Harry. One can’t always be sure.

WARP – The Hangman’s Revolution

I almost, or very nearly, thought the unthinkable. Like, ‘I know Eoin Colfer’s latest WARP novel will be good, but perhaps I don’t need to read it. There are many other books to read.’ Ouch! (My knuckles really hurt. But I was asking for it.)

What I am saying, sister, is this: Eoin writes great books. They don’t deteriorate for being so many. A sequel is still an Eoin Colfer novel. Thinking that there is no need to read, is a very stupid idea to have. But it’s nothing that a good rap over the knuckles won’t cure. Sister.

And of course, time travel is a useful subject to pick. Time travel messes with the system, and you will never be quite the same again. And since yesterday’s future is no longer today’s future, you can – in theory – write as many books as you want. There will be something a little different in each reality. But preserve us from the horrible possibility that there will be no Harry Potter. That would be too much.

Eoin Colfer, WARP - The Hangman's Revolution

So, where was I? Good question. I could barely remember where we left off. Riley was in his own Victorian times, I believe, and FBI Agent Chevie returned to her own present London. We thought. So we did.

But it was only another London. A nightmarish other London. So it was.

‘scuse me. Eoin does Irish so well. (I know. There is a reason for that.) So he does.

(Sorry, I really must stop.)

So, Chevie’s life isn’t going so well. It’s about to end pretty soon. Or is it? Depends which life, perhaps. She is reunited with Riley. So she is. (Oops.)

Victorian London is full of modern-day men, and now a few modern-day women, too. Sister. Queen Victoria is at risk. The man who runs Chevie’s most recent life has plans for the future. Chevie and Riley must put a stop to them, if only to safeguard Harry Potter’s existence-to-be. Enemies become allies and vice versa. There is an astounding romance, and Missus Figary’s son does well. Some other people don’t. On the whole that’s good.

So it is.

And that goes for The Hangman’s Revolution, too. Don’t be fooled into thinking that humorous Irish children’s adventures that are lightweight are, well, lightweight. If they have anything to do with Eoin Colfer they will be must-reads. I hope I’m never again afflicted by such treacherous thoughts. So I do.

You and Harry

Call me childish if you will, but I do quite fancy being on the cover of a Harry Potter book. After all, I’m a witch.

Life size cover Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone

This life size cover will be at King’s Cross today, somewhere near platform 9 ¾, from seven to seven. I believe you can be photographed inside the 3D cover (and I’m hoping it’s free, but they didn’t actually say), as they are celebrating the new edition of Harry Potter.

I’m fairly sure it’s the same picture as was on the poster Son bought in Sweden back in 2002, and which sat on his wardrobe doors (yes, doors; we cut it in half) for longer than you’d think would be considered cool. Daughter bought another poster, and I bought wallpaper. The real kind, not what you have on a computer. And a suitcase, to transport it all home.

Stop it!

I’m not terribly keen on Martin Amis. I am fairly sure I’ve not read any of his books. So I’m basing my lacking keen-ness on what I know about his person. I could object to his fame. Or to the fact that he probably earns a sizeable amount of money from writing.

The one thing that would never have ocurred to me to do, is suggest he should stop writing books. I don’t think he should. It’s what he does, and according to some people he is pretty good at it.

I liked some of his father’s books, so I accept that Martin most likely has some talent in that direction. He writes. People read and like and pay for the pleasure. That’s fine.

But if your name is J K Rowling and Harry Potter made you more money than most of us can begin to imagine (and I speak as someone used to handling lots of money; just not my own), then it appears it is OK to suggest she should give up writing, and leave her window of opportunity to a few other needy authors.

Why should she? I like the fact that she clearly enjoys writing so much that she does it even when she doesn’t have to, in order to feed and clothe her children. Especially now, when she must have discovered that she will get lots of flak if she publishes another book.

Unless it’s something as unimportant as a children’s book. (These are my words, but the sentiment in the Huffington Post the other day seemed to be that children’s books are not proper books, and that even J K has Lynn Shepherd’s permission to write more. Generous. What if she were to earn an even bigger slice of the author income cake?)

I’ve not read Hilary Mantel’s books either. I have nothing against Hilary, who I’m sure is nice. But I probably won’t choose to read her books while there is so much else I would like to prioritise. She wins prizes. A lot. And while it would be lovely for other writers to win as well, I don’t feel we can suggest that no one should award Hilary any more prizes, in case it upsets her peers. Or that she stops writing in order to prevent literary judges from praising her work.

Cuidado con el perro

That’s when I pushed the Resident IT Consultant forward. If there was going to be any biting by dogs, I didn’t want to be first through the door. Luckily my Spanish was there to warn me. Although, as it turned out, the doggy had been banished to the car. We stopped on our way out and Daughter teased it, a little. I suppose she felt safe enough with a bit of car in between.

So, day two of house speed-dating, or whatever you should call it. I can assure you that by the end of the day the Resident IT Consultant’s head was reeling, and he needed gentle guidance on where which toilet was, and that if the bedroom dimensions seemed small, that’s because it was a bathroom.

Eaves. I still don’t get why a steeper sloping roof has bigger eaves. It ought to be the other way round.

As you may have gathered, Daughter joined us for the day. She wasn’t in the slightest impressed by the estate agent who jokingly placed her in the boxroom, next to those eaves. But she did open all under stairs cupboards and make Harry Potter jokes. And, she felt the doggy property was straight out of Privet Drive.

I began the day by putting my boots on (well, I obviously had breakfast and things first first) and as I did so, the thought that I’d prefer not to have to take them off during the day, on account of them being difficult to put on, crossed my mind. That was before I discovered I had a 50p piece in my left boot so it had to come off again. But you will not be surprised to find that two house owners were of the take-your-shoes-off persuasion. Not that we did, but still. It was one of those witchy thoughts I get. Obviously, if I’d found more money in my boots, I would ‘happily’ have removed them. (This is Scotland. How much money can a witch expect to encounter inside her footwear?)

If we were proper people who kept up with all manner of normal stuff, we’d most likely have recognised one house vendor. As he opened a cupboard, which happened to be full of books (weird place to keep your books; as though they are an embarrassment) I noticed a pile of ten or so, new, pristine books, spine out, bearing his name. I refrained from asking if he was an author (which was very lucky), and went on admiring the house.

The silver shoe in the kitchen should have been a clue. We just thought it was an unusual taste in trinkets, but it seems it’s a trophy of the kind a successful football player might get. Because that’s what he was. Anyone normal would probably have said ‘don’t I recognise you?’

We gate-crashed one house viewing and sneaked around in the garden of another. We are fairly sure what we would like. We just can’t act on it yet. And when we can, it’s bound to be too late.

But at least we now have a spreadsheet listing the number of bathrooms and the distance to Lidl…